HPV shame and confusion preventing women from cervical screenings | UK News

A fear of being shamed and confusion over myths surrounding the human papilloma virus (HPV) could be putting women off from going for cervical screenings, experts say.

Some 2,000 women were surveyed by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.

More than 40% said they would worry their partner had been unfaithful, and almost the same amount reported that they would be worried about what people thought of them if told they had HPV.

Two-thirds of women said they would worry a diagnosis of HPV meant they had cancer and 70% would be scared to hear they had the virus.

The test can detect HPV
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Many misconceptions still surround HPV, research shows

This apprehension and misunderstanding around the virus could be preventing women from being screened and sparking unnecessary anxiety.

The research presented at Cancer Research UK’s Early Diagnosis Conference in Birmingham also suggested many women polled did not understand the link between HPV and cancer – with a third being unaware that the virus can cause cervical cancer and almost all of them were unaware it can cause throat or mouth cancer.

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of early diagnosis, said: “It is really concerning that there’s so much misunderstanding about HPV. It’s a very common virus and most of the time, it will sit dormant and not cause a problem.

“Testing for the virus is a better way to identify people who may have changes in their cervix, which, if left untreated, could develop into cervical cancer. So HPV screening is an excellent way to prevent cervical cancer from developing in the first place.

“Every woman has the choice whether to go for screening but busting the myths and removing the stigmas surrounding HPV is vital to ensure people feel more confident to book and turn up for their cervical screening appointment.”

Eight in 10 women will have some form of HPV infection in their lifetime.

A small percentage of those will have specific high-risk types of the virus and will go on to develop cancer.

The health service in England is preparing to replace the existing cervical cancer screening test, which looks for abnormal cells, with HPV screening later this year.

Scotland is set to follow next year, while HPV screening has already been introduced in Wales.

:: What is HPV?

HPV is the term for a group of viruses that affect your skin and the moist membranes lining your body, such as a person’s cervix, mouth or throat, the NHS says.

:: There are more than 100 types of HPV

:: Around 40 types can affect the genital area and are common and highly contagious

:: Genital HPV infections spread during sexual intercourse and skin-to-skin contact of the genital areas – including sex, oral sex and intimate touching

:: It does not matter how many times someone has had sex or been intimate with a partner

:: Wearing a condom reduces the risk of catching HPV infections but it isn’t 100% effective

:: The HPV vaccine is not full-proof, only protecting 70% of cases

:: The main type of cancer linked to HPV infection is cervical cancer, but it can also cause cancers in the vagina, vulva, penis, anus, mouth and throat

:: HPV can be present in the body for years before symptoms show, although some people never get any symptoms.

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